chol·​la ˈchȯi-yə How to pronounce cholla (audio)
: any of numerous shrubby opuntias chiefly of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico that have needlelike spines partly enclosed in a papery sheath and cylindrical joints

called also cholla cactus

Illustration of cholla

Illustration of cholla

Did you know?

A shrubby cactus chiefly of the southwestern United States and Mexico, a cholla has cylindrical joints and needlelike spines partly enclosed in a papery sheath. Chollas vary greatly in size and have small flowers that are sometimes yellow-green and inconspicuous, but usually of more striking colors. One cholla, the desert Christmas cactus, bears bright red fruits through the winter. Living plants serve as food for desert animals. Cholla wood, a hollow cylinder with regularly spaced holes, is used for fuel and decorative novelties. Some cholla fruit is edible.

Examples of cholla in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web From summer into fall, berries and cactus fruit, including cholla, saguaro, and prickly pear, become an important part of the diet. Phil Bourjaily, Field & Stream, 28 Mar. 2024 As the light catches the cholla needles, the cactus glows like a neon sign in Vegas. Maggie Downs, Los Angeles Times, 25 Mar. 2024 Heading south on Gooseneck Trail, the route winds among saguaro and cholla cactus, crossing Rio Verde Drive at the 0.8-mile point. Mare Czinar, The Arizona Republic, 22 Mar. 2024 Keep an eye out for more blooming succulents like the yucca, cholla cactus, hedgehog cactus, beavertail cactus, and Mojave mound cactus. Joe Yogerst, Forbes, 28 Feb. 2024 But it’s been worth it for the desert’s charms: the temperate winters and the cholla and saguaro growing on the hillsides — even as the city gets hotter. Jack Herrera, Los Angeles Times, 3 Aug. 2023 The teddy bear cholla cactus, Joshua trees and other flora in the nearby arboretum animate visitors. Mark Eddington, The Salt Lake Tribune, 22 July 2023 The cholla spines, on the other hand, were hardest to remove from pig tissue; testing showed that a single cholla spine could hook into flesh effectively enough to lift half a pound of pork by the skin. Alison Klesman, Discover Magazine, 20 Nov. 2018 After strong winds in Southern California’s Anza-Borrego Desert blew Swain sideways into a chest-high, spiky cholla cactus, Magnus pulled the cactus needles out of Swain’s leg using the tweezers from his Swiss Army knife. Jeastman, oregonlive, 18 June 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cholla.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Mexican Spanish, from Spanish, head

First Known Use

1846, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of cholla was in 1846

Dictionary Entries Near cholla

Cite this Entry

“Cholla.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Jun. 2024.

More from Merriam-Webster on cholla

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!